The Kentucky Bourbon Trail- Part I

For John Mark’s 40th birthday we said for years that the Kentucky Bourbon Trail would be our destination. His favorite cocktail has always been Marker’s Mark on the rocks; usually a large, single rock, or neat. The first birthday cake I ever got him eight years ago was a Maker’s Mark cake made by the original Sweet Malisa in Opelika, Alabama. He’s an ambassador with the brand and has always had an appreciation for the beverage. I was determined to make this bourbon themed birthday his most memorable birthday to date.

We started our journey in the heart of the bourbon trail, Bardstown, Kentucky. Located about an hour south of Louisville, this town has been named the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America”.  I would beg to differ, but I am a little biased because Auburn/Opelika truly is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen. We arrived around lunch and headed directly to Bottle and Bond Kitchen located within the Bardstown Bourbon Company distillery. The distillery’s exterior is very modern and unlike any other we saw during our trip. The interior is an unstoppable Instagram worthy photo-opt-spot at every turn. The design is immaculate and tasteful; elegant and elevated, yet casual and comfortable. Our server was warm, kind and knew the menu very well. All of her recommendations were spot on. We could have closed this place down, and we would have been more than content. All of the food we tried was excellent. The four-cheese macaroni and cheese, with an herbaceous, crispy crust, was out of this world good. Definitely in the top five best mac n’ cheese variations we have ever tried. The specialty cocktails also were equally delicious and dynamic. The “Margarita  Caliente” was a punch to the palate; spicy was not even the word, it was hot, but I liked it.

We had a reservation to tour Willett in the early afternoon, so we ran by our AirBnB located a few blocks from historic downtown Bardstown. Dubbed the Maxwell Inn this is probably one of the nicest AirBnB’s we have ever stayed in, and the only one to have a kitchen stocked with waters, beers, coffee, and an array of breakfast foods for our enjoyment. We had the entire home to ourselves and entered via a lockbox. The home was sparkling clean and had the most perfect front porch. We highly recommend staying here if you visit the area. It was close to everything and is within walking distance of the festival if you were to attend that event.

Of course, our trip coincided with the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival, so the downtown was bustling and vibrant with cars and people. We did not attend the festival but did get to see a glimpse of what it was all about. I think it would be fun to return to the area again to attend this event, and also see some of the places we did not have time to visit during this particular trip.

After dropping off our luggage and checking into the house, we set out for our next stop on our agenda, Willett Distillery. It was an extremely hot Kentucky day. There was not a single cloud in sight. They have experienced dry, hot conditions similar to those we have had in Alabama this summer. You arrive through a gated entrance and up a long gravel drive and are welcomed by white, large rows of rick houses and wind around until you are led to a gravel parking lot at the end of the drive. The concrete sidewalks lead you into the welcome center, which is also a gift shop, the tour starting place, a coffee bistro, and the newly opened restaurant area upstairs. We were greeted at the door by several friendly faces and were directed where to sign-in for the tour of the facility we had arranged before our arrival. The gift shop was full of apparel, varieties of Willett bourbon for purchase, and many other whiskey themed items. John Mark collected a bottle of bourbon at each stop, always a variety of bourbon he could not purchase back in Alabama. Something else he can enjoy for many more years to come, or at least enough years until we can return to Kentucky.

Herb was our tour guide. A retired gentleman who had a good deal of enthusiasm for bourbon and Willett. He led our group of about fifteen people out of the welcome center over to the distillery. This was the first experience for both of us getting to smell the wondrous aromas that are produced by corn whiskey distilleries. The sweet, sour corn mash aromas permeate the air. Not being a big fan of bourbon, I thought I would be put off by this aroma, but the rich, sweet, fruity aromas of it led me to appreciate the flavors within Kentucky bourbons. It was close to 100 degrees outside this day, so I estimate it was at least 120 degrees within this distillery. The air was thick, steamy, and would take your breath away. I excused myself from the tour and John Mark continued with the group to see the rick houses and other highlights of the facility. I joined back up with the group when they returned to the welcome area tasting room that adjoins the gift shop. Herb was a generous host and gave John Mark birthday tasting pours. John Mark also benefited greatly from all of my tastings that I only tried a little of. I made myself try every single one though, and it did broaden my appreciation for the spirit, and also helped me gain a great deal of knowledge about which bourbons I prefer. Like most other things, it always seems to be, unknowingly to me, the more expensive it is, the more I like it. Funny how that works.

After we had spent several hours at Willett, we returned to our AirBnB to get all dressed up for what I was hoping would be a very special birthday dinner at The Rickhouse in Bardstown. I did my research, as I do with everywhere we visit or eat, read the reviews, and this place did not live up to the hype. We were greatly disappointed with the service and food. To sum it up in one sentence, the brussel sprouts were frozen, the green beans were from a can, the wine list was non-existent, and our server pulled her ringing cell phone out of her bra at the table adjoining ours.

We asked for our checks, and retired to the house and shared a nice bottle of wine John Mark brought from our home collection on the front porch. It was a quiet Wednesday night and we enjoyed the tranquility of the stillness and being able to just enjoy rocking together on the porch sipping.

The next morning we packed up our things and started our way over towards the Lexington side of the trail. John Mark did not know this at the time, but there was a slew of surprises in store for him that day. We started the day at Woodford Reserve. The drive into the distillery is breathtaking and beautiful. The rolling hills and uniform, fenced-in horse pastures as far as the eye can see. Exactly what I envision when I think of Kentucky. The visitor center for Woodford is across the street from the distillery and tasting room where you end up at the end of the tour. Woodford by far was the nicest facility, most organized tour, and overall best experience we had during all of the tours we went on during our time on the bourbon trail. It was pretty crowded, but we were there during what is probably the busiest season of the year due to the bourbon festival. Even with the crowd, the tour was very organized and we had a great guide. He was cheerful and an avid bourbon enthusiast. Woodford is the oldest known distillery site in Kentucky, dating back to 1812 and Elijah Pepper. It was early enough in the morning that the heat was not unbearable during this tour. I made my way through the entire facility with John Mark, getting to see the three impressive, large, bronze stills used in their distillation process, which greatly affords that smooth, easy-drinking flavor that Woodford is known for.

We did not have a lunch reservation for another half hour, and we could not arrive early due to impending surprises, so we stayed at the little bistro/bar area off the back of the tasting room at Woodford. I had a Kentucky Mule, which is a Moscow Mule, but made with bourbon, this one made with Woodford, of course. John Mark had a Woodford Old Fashioned, and we settled into a shady spot on the porch and sipped our cocktails while taking in the beauty of the moment and enjoying a relaxing moment in time together. I was trying to hide my anxiousness, so I was thankful to have the Kentucky Mule to sip on.

We walked back across the country road to our vehicle and made the five-minute drive down the hill to The Stave. John Mark had no idea that his mom who lives in Pinedale, Wyoming was about to show up, and that the next few days would be full of big surprises….

img_6764
Entrance to Bardstown Bourbon Company.
Four Cheese and Herb Crusted Mac N Cheese at Bottle & Bond Kitchen and Bar located within Bardstown Bourbon Company.
Margarita Caliente
Jalapeño-infused Cimarron Blanco Tequila / Avocado / Cilantro / Lime / Dry Curacao / Salt Rim
Stay Gold
Belle Meade Bourbon / Honey / Lemon / Turmeric / Moroccan Spice Blend
Bread Pudding
Bourbon Caramel / Louisville Cream Premium / Small Batch Ice Cream
Our AirBnB near downtown Bardstown, named the Maxwell Inn.
Willett Distillery entrance, gift shop, tour start, and bar/restaurant upstairs.
Fat distillery cat at Willett.

The distillery house at Willett. It was blazing hot!
Getting to taste the corn mash that eventually becomes corn whiskey. Amazing smells.
Woodford Reserve was by far the best tour of the trip!
Wall of Woodford.

Inside one of the rickhouses at Woodford Reserve.
The exterior of the distillery at Woodford Reserve.

Excellent tasting experience at Woodford Reserve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Nice to See you Birmingham

A few months back we had an amazing weekend getaway in Birmingham, Alabama. Easily lured by some longtime friends to attend a Martin Sexton concert on Saturday evening, we decided to head up on Friday night and make a weekend out of it.

During the day on Friday, I got a notification that one of our friends was attending a show at Iron City in Birmingham, and it was a new band that I’ve recently been turned on to and desperately wanted to see live, Tank and the Bangas. A New Orleans based band, I first heard of them when they came to Montgomery a few years back to play at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. Their music is lively, soulful, playful, fun,  and just makes me want to bounce all over the room smiling. Us getting to see them was fate because we rolled into town right as they came onto the stage. The timing could not have been any more perfect.

After a night of seeing friends and dancing all over Iron City, we retired to an AirBnB that we had rented for the weekend just a few blocks away from Iron City, near Five Points. It was the cutest little bungalow, and it was SUPER convenient for everything. Everywhere we went the entire weekend was only a five dollar Uber ride, and the free parking on-premise was nice as well. It allowed us to have easy access for our daytime adventures further out from downtown.

The next morning, we were up and out early, and we were able to make brunch at The Essential about a mile from our apartment. There was parking along the street, and we were there early enough that we had no wait to be seated. Described as a refined neighborhood cafe, The Essential is located on the historic cobblestone roadway, Morris Avenue. There are two murals close by the cafe, the “Before I Die” chalkboard and the John Lytle Wilson Robot mural just beyond the overpass. As we walked into the restaurant, we were warmly greeted, and I could hear my favorite band of all time playing over the speakers, The Allman Brothers. I knew immediately we had chosen the right place to start our day. My husband started with a latte and a mimosa to drink. I had already had several cups of Mama Mocha’s brew that I always travel with back at the apartment. So I started off with a one of their house Bloody Mary’s. The Bloody Mary, aka the Hair of the Dog, hit the spot! It was spicy and woke my mouth up. I ordered the quiche of the day, which was Gruyere and caramelized onions, and my husband ordered the smoked salmon eggs Benedict. Everything we had was delicious. The service staff was very attentive and we had a lovely breakfast.

After fueling up for the morning, we started our adventure around downtown Birmingham and the Avondale area in search of some of the many murals scattered throughout the city. As you have seen in some of our previous trips, seeking out murals and art in cities we visit is a must on my to-do list. It provides us the opportunity to not only see some great art but also see parts of the cities we may have not visited otherwise. I had researched mural locations online before our trip and knew all of their approximate locations before we set out for the day. I also had discovered a local place called MELT that had a pretty unique, delicious-looking menu. The ambiance of the place was casual and comfortable. It was packed when we arrived, and we bellied up to the bar. We ordered cocktails and a few appetizers to share. To eat we tried out the mac n’ cheese egg roll. Yes that is macaroni and cheese, wrapped, fried inside an egg roll, and served with spicy, sweet and sour dipping sauce. I really was not sure if I would enjoy such a savory dish, but it was incredibly delicious. We also tried the Food Truck Nachos, which were a base of kettle chips, loaded with  BBQ pulled pork, nacho cheese, BBQ sauce, jalapeno ranch, and fried jalapeno crisps. You would not think that we had just had breakfast just a short couple of hours or so before. We devoured both dishes and cocktails quickly! There is a mural directly outside of the restaurant, as well as a waiting area equipped with a corn hole set. Not far from Melt is HOT BOX, another favorite spot of ours for cocktails and delicious food. Located within an Air-stream trailer, it’s a pretty cool scene.

That evening we were able to grab a table at the newly opened Automatic Seafood and Oysters. They had just opened their doors a few weeks prior to our visit. The restaurant is located in what was at one time Automatic Sprinkle Co. in downtown Birmingham. Upon entering the restaurant you are immediately blown away by the breathtaking, stylish interior. Even the bathrooms were unique and interesting. I loved the color scheme, vintage feel, and excellent use of astonishing wallpapers.

Chef Adam Evans, a graduate of Auburn University, and his designer wife, Suzanne Humphries Evans are the visionaries behind this beautiful establishment. With her style and his culinary skills, this place is destined to be a long-standing, hugely successful restaurant in Birmingham. The menu is largely fresh seafood-focused, and they have an excellent beverage selection as well. I tried several of their specialty cocktails, including one of my favorites, frosé. As a group, I think we may have ordered everything on the menu. We shared dishes so that we could experience as much as we could during our visit. The fried whole snapper was amazing. I have only ever had that before in Culebra, Puerto Rico, so being able to have seafood that fresh and delicious in the heart of Birmingham is incredible.

I am ready to start planning our next trip to Birmingham. There are other murals to see and more food to try! I have been so delightfully surprised to see the culinary world in Alabama elevate and progress, most notably in recent years. I am grateful for the risk all of these restaurateurs have made in changing the culinary face of Alabama. I am excited and hopeful for the future food scene of Alabama.

That’s So Fetch mural located at 3027 6th Avenue South.
Know your History mural located in Avondale across from Melt on 4th Ave S.
Miss Fancy mural on the side of a salon located  at 400 41st St S Suite 100.
Tre Lilli Mural located on side of Alabama Ballet 2726 1st Ave S.
Homewood Is Always A Good Idea mural located at 2790 B. M. Montgomery Street.
It’s nice to have you in Birmingham mural located on side of John’s Diner @ 112 Richard Arrington Jr Blvd N.
John Lytle Wilson Robot mural located on Morris Ave just past The Essential.
Before I Die chalk board mural located just past The Essential on Morris Ave.
What’s Up Birmingham? mural by Paul Cordes Wilm just past our AirBnB on 18th St. S.
Tank and the Bangas at Iron City Birmingham.
Very simplistic outdoor area of The Essential on Morris Ave.
Yummy, yummy latte from the Essential. Cocktails not pictured.
Gruyere and caramelized onion quiche at the Essential.
Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict at the Essential.
The “Waterever is Meant to Be” cocktail from MELT.
“Bitter Peach Symphony” cocktail from MELT.
BBQ Nachos on homemade chips with fried, crispy jalapenos on top. Delicious!
Mac N’ Cheese Egg Roll with sweet n’ sour dipping sauce!
Deep Fried Double Stuffed Oreo’s covered in confectioner sugar.
Delicious frozen drink from Automatic Seafood.
“Spring Time In Mexico” cocktail from Automatic Seafood- Tequila, Vida Mezcal, Herbsaint, cucumber, lime, mint.
Menu from Automatic Seafood 4/20/19
Marinated Spring Vegetables from the starters at Automatic Seafood.
Oysters for dayzzzzz….at Automatic Seafood. The Murder Points were my favorite!
Whole B-Line Snapper Fried. Felt like I was ocean side in Puerto Rico!
Chris Trapper opening for Martin Sexton at Workplay Birmingham.
Martin Sexton at Workplay in Birmingham, Alabama.

 

Bourbon And Beef Benefit

Last Thursday evening Acre restaurant in Auburn, Alabama hosted a “Beef and Bourbon Benefit” to help the victims of the March 3rd EF-4 tornadoes that devastated the Beauregard and Smiths Station communities in Lee County, Alabama. The 170 MPH tornadoes took the lives of 23 people in the community and left many others without their homes and their belongings scattered for miles. With the combined efforts of a spectacular team of chefs and their crews, the Beef and Bourbon Benefit was able to raise $34,000 in one evening! These funds will be handed over to the MEND program at the East Alabama Medical Center. This program was established after the storm devastation to help the victims with the challenges they are going to face as they rebuild their lives. As their website states their mission is, “To ensure that all affected by tragedy and disaster are able to fully recover physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually”. The Mend program combines the resources of local service organizations, civic groups, national organizations, and churches to not only allow better communication but also a better allocation of efforts to the victims during times of disaster.

The chefs that graciously donated their time and culinary talents to the evening, were the following: David Bancroft  of Acre, Jeffrey Compton of Acre, Caleb Fischer of Bow & Arrow, Leonardo Maurelli of Ariccia Cucina Italiana, Robby Melvin of Southern Living, Robbie Nicolaisen of The Hound, Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse, and last, but certainly not least, winner of Top Chef Kentucky 2019, Kelsey Barnard Clark of KBC in Dothan, Alabama.  Also contributing to the night’s success was the beef that was featured in all the dishes, Brasstown Beef. Their cattle farm is based out of Franklin, North Carolina, and their motto is that “Extraordinary Care= Extraordinary Beef.” Between the extreme care raising this beef, and extreme care shown in cooking it, it was by far some of the best beef I have ever had in my life. I could cut it all with a fork. Also sponsoring the event was Woodford Reserve of Kentucky and Red Clay Brewing of Opelika. Two of the live auction items during the dinner were two rare bottles of the Master’s Collection of Woodford Reserve. Also, two private wine dinners (one to be hosted in Auburn and another in Dothan) with Iron Chef winner, Chef David Bancroft, and Top Chef  Kentucky winner Chef Kelsey Clark of Dothan cooking, and John Mark Davis of International Wines pairing the wines, were auctioned off at much success! Other sponsors for the evenings’ event were the Auburn/Opelika Tourism Bureau, the Hudson Family Foundation, Southern Living, and the CALIFORNIA Wine Company by Phipps Family of Wines.

As the event started, guests were allowed to order cocktails from the bar, or participate in beer and bourbon tastings in the small private room off the right of the entrance of Acre. Being passed around also during this time were the dill pickle biscuits with a Dijon mustard and crispy piece of ham created by Robby Melvin of Southern Living. Also scattered around the dining area were Mason jars of David’s Beef Jerky. The jerky was delicious, tender, and had the perfect amount of kick. David’s cuisine is known for his signature touch of spice. Once we were all seated more starters came out which included Robbie Nicolaisen’s highly elevated black-eye pea hummus. This was no traditional hummus. In addition to the traditional elements of a hummus, black-eyed peas were used, tender beef cheeks were added, Georgia olive oil was used along with a local goat cheese, green tomato chow-chow, and benne served with za’atar spiced fry bread. This dish was so satisfying. I thought this definitely would be a great addition to a tapas style menu, as this hummus would be the perfect accompaniment to a few beers with friends. Jeff Compton prepared a delicately delectable beef heart tartare that consisted of diced raw beef heart, beef fat fried shallots, caper vinaigrette, topped with a duck egg yolk and black truffle aioli, and was served with benne crackers.

Prior to the start of the remaining dinner, which still consisted of six more sides, three more main dishes, and two desserts, Chef David Bancroft introduced all the participants and the sponsors for the evenings’ event. Each chef was welcomed to the dining room with applause and cheer. There were guests in attendance from as far as a Texas and several had made the trip up from Dothan to see their town favorite, Kelsey Clark.

After the introductions and gracious thanks to all the sponsors, a tsunami of food began flooding our table. The entire dinner was served family-style; meaning that all the separate dishes were on their own plates and were passed around the table and shared. The first shared side to come out to the table was a herb roasted wild mushroom dish comprised of the wild mushrooms, brown butter, Manchego cheese, and beef fat bread crumbs, created by Robby Melvin of Southern Living. Next was a flash fried cauliflower dish created by Leo Maurelli of Ariccia Cucina at The Hotel at Auburn University. I had never had a flash fried cauliflower that I could recall. It was slightly crispy, and the feta aioli along with the capers and mixed herbs, made this a cauliflower dish I would want to see on my plate again. Chef Leo also was responsible for the Extruded Creste de Gallo Mac & Cheese, that was full of savory garlic butter and herbed migas. No sooner had I served myself some of the cauliflower when a small cast iron kettle was placed on the table brimming with Rob McDaniel’s braised butter peas with ham hocks, lemon, and chives. They were incredible! I hope to see many of more of these butter peas in my future visits to SpringHouse on Lake Martin. During the summers, their vegetable plates are to die for. Rob has a spectacular way of making scrumptious vegetables. To round out our already abundant spread, a Sea Island Red Pea gratin with smoked beef belly and cornbread crumble was concocted by Robbie Nicolaisen. Finally, the sixth and final side brought to the table were Jeffrey Compton of Acre’s Roasted Fingerling Sweet Potatoes with an amazing house cultured yogurt and carrot top chimichurri sauce. I had never had sweet potatoes served with any type of sauce. The tanginess of the yogurt, along with the chimichurri, made this a sweet potato dish I hope to see on Acre’s menu soon. It would pair perfectly alongside a filet or other cut of beef.

Even though we all knew that there was going to be an onslaught of food coming at us, it was extremely hard to pace ourselves throughout the dinner. All the dishes were beautiful executed, and all the flavors were on point. Even though we all probably could have left the table at this point due to being full, we still had the main dishes and desserts to come. The first main dish brought out was made by Kelsey Clark, a Lavender Rubbed Brasstown Beef Ribeye served with a cornbread panzanella and an arugula gremolata. Next was Rob McDaniel’s Hickory Grilled Brasstown Beef Filet served with a celery salad and a danish blue cheese vinaigrette. Finally, Caleb Fischer’s smoked brisket with a street corn relish and arepas were served.

For dessert, Kelsey Clark made the most beautiful Georgia Olive Oil and Cornmeal Cake with beef tallow buttercream, whipped corn cream, and bourbon macerated strawberries. It was delightful and made me excited for the pending summer strawberries in my future. Caleb Fischer created a Bone Marrow Chocolate Pudding with a marcona-cocoa nib crumb, preserves, and micro sorrell. It was reminiscent of a pot de creme if you have ever had one of those. Very decadent and rich, and beautifully presented.

By the end of the meal, most of our table was no longer sitting. We physically could not sit any longer. I can only recall one other time in my life when I have felt so full, and that was after days of eating and drinking our way across Napa and Sonoma. What an awesome evening enjoyed by many, that will benefit many in the Lee County community.

Bourbon and Beef Benefit 2019- Helping feed the Lee Co. Tornado Victims.
Dill pickle biscuit with crispy ham and Dijon butter. -Robby Melvin
Black-Eyed Pea Hummus with spiced beef cheeks, green tomato chow chow, goat cheese, Georgia Olive oil, benne, served with za’atar spiced fry bread. – Robbie Nicolaisen
Beef Heart Tartare with duck egg yolk, black truffle aoili, beef fat fried shallots, caper vinagarette, served with benne cracker. – Jeff Compton
Flash Fried Cauliflower with feta aoili, capers, & mixed herbs. – Leo Maurelli
Roasted Fingerling Sweet Potatoes with house cultured yogurt, and carrot top chimichurri. – Jeff Compton
Georgia Olive oil and Cornmeal Cake with beef tallow buttercream, whipped corn cream, and bourbon macerated strawberries. -Kelsey Clark
img_4682.jpg
From (L-R) Rob McDaniel of Springhouse, David Bancroft of Acre, Leo Maurelli of Arricia, John Mark Davis of Internatioal Wines and Craft Beer, Caleb Fischer of Bow and Arrow, Kelsey Clark of KBC in Dothan, Robby Melvin of Southern Living Magazine, Robbie Nicolaisen of The Hound, Steve Whitmire of Brasstown Beef, and Jeffrey Compton of Acre.

Wagner Family Wine Dinner

Last week we were delighted to attend the Wagner Family Wine Dinner hosted by The Depot in Auburn, Alabama, and International Wines and Craft Beer. We arrived early, as we customarily do, and had a few cocktails at the elegant bar in the entrance of the restaurant. I tried one of the current specialty cocktails, the “Gardner’s Spritz”. It was refreshing and slightly-citrus. It would have been a perfect brunch drink or a dock-side libation. John Mark ordered his usual Maker’s on the rocks.

As attendees started piling into the bar area the wait staff started passing around the appetizers. One them was a crostini-like bread with basil, roasted tomato on top, including a sardine. Chef Scott Simpson explained he wanted to showcase the sardine, as they are a sustainable food. I have tried sardines in the past, and personally, have a strong aversion to anything with a strong fish taste or odor. John Mark enjoyed the bite but agreed that the sardine would not have suited me. The other appetizer being passed around was a black-eyed pea falafel with a Romesco-like sauce and crumbled feta on top. It was absolutely divine. I think these would be a great addition to The Depot’s bar bites menu.

We all promptly seated for dinner and Chef Simpson along with John Mark Davis of International Wines spoke about the courses we were about to be served and the wines that they would be paired with. The Wagner Family of Wines belongs to a family in Napa Valley, California, who have farmed the area since the mid-1800s, beginning to grow grape vines in the early 1960s. They were put on the “wine-world” map in the early 1970s with their Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. The family produces several labels and all of the wines we had this evening were exceptional. The pairing efforts of the chef and sommelier demonstrated beautifully throughout the dinner.

The first courses consisted of a very delicate portion of grouper from the Gulf of Mexico. The grouper was abed a helping of jicama slaw, arugula, and a black-eyed pea puree. Jicama is more commonly known as a Mexican turnip and has a slight sweetness to it. It is often compared to a cross between a potato and a pear if that helps you visualize the texture and taste easier. These flavors were a delightful pairing with the Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay.

For the second course, we were served a wonderful salmon dish. I never order salmon because it can be cooked inconsistently from one restaurant to the next, but this salmon was cooked to perfection. The salmon had been prepared by first having been rubbed in herbs, then later by grilling on cedar planks. It was served atop a bed of spring onion and carrot risotto, which was out of this world good! The blueberry beurre rouge sauce was a very interesting combination with the salmon and risotto, but I was delightfully surprised at how well it paired with the dish and wine, and thoroughly enjoyed trying a blueberry type sauce on a salmon dish; very outside of the box. The beurre rouge is the colorful sibling of beurre blanc, which is more commonly seen on menus. A beurre blanc is a classic French sauce, comprised of shallots, butter, reduction of vinegar, and white wine; whereas, the beurre rouge is made of shallots, butter, and reductions of red wine vinegar and red wine. The blueberry was a nice compliment to the dish, but really brought home the wine pairing of the Mer Soleil Reserve Pinot Noir.

For our third course, chef presented us with a coffee-rubbed Beeler Farm pork cheeks, rosemary fingerling potatoes, broccolini, upon a base of a mole negro demi. Beeler Farms is located in Madison County, Iowa, and they have been raising pigs and selling their pork since 1846. I was pleased to see the cut of pork used, the cheeks. I have had them in the past and knew that the cheeks of the pork were one of the most delicate pieces of pork you can get and that this would be a real treat. The mole negro demi-sauce was excellent, adding great richness and flavor to the pork. This also was another dish I would not mind having again. The Red Schooner Voyage 6 was paired with this course. This wine is a Malbec with grapes grown in the Andes Mountains, that are chilled and then shipped to Napa Valley, California for processing and bottling. The robust flavors of this wine paired wonderfully with the complex and deep flavors of the mole negro demi and pork cheeks.

Finally, the dessert course was brought out. I was very intrigued by the description of the dessert on the menu and was most curious about trying the candied prosciutto. The goat cheese tart itself did not have as much flavor or sweetness as I thought it would. The goat cheese itself was pretty savory. There were honey and Marcona almond base on the plate, which I probably should have scraped onto my fork with each bite of the tart to add the sweetness that was needed. The candied prosciutto was amazing! I would love to see this again and again, used in any way possible. Who doesn’t love candied bacon, in one form or another? The Conundrum Sparkling Rose was a perfect ending and pairing for this dinner. This dry, delicate sparkling wine is the perfect compliment to any dessert and any occasion.

I highly recommend checking out The Depot in Auburn, and/or tasting some of the Wagner Family Wines upon your next opportunity!

Front entrance of the building. Mural by R.C. Hagans.
The “Aperol Lavender Spritz”
Extra dirty Tito’s Vodka Martini
Menu for the Wagner Family Wine Dinner
Falafel bites with goat cheese on top
Sardine Crostini’s with basil-roasted tomato and mint
Thyme Roasted Gulf Grouper with Vanilla Jicama Slaw, Arugula, and black-eye pea puree
Cedar Planked Salmon, Spring Onion and Carrot Risotto, Blueberry Beurre Rouge
Coffee Rubbed Beeler Farm Pork Cheeks, Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes, Broccolini,  and         Mole Negro Demi
Goat Cheese and Candied Prosciutto Tart with Toasted Marcona Almonds

New Mexico

Over the holidays my husband and I were fortunate to spend some much needed time with his mother. We do not get to see her very often, as she lives in a small town near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, called Pinedale. We have been there twice before to visit her and were blown away with the beauty of Wyoming.  Visiting her is always an adventure!

Now that my “mother-in-love” is retired, she and her husband are spending the warmer months in Wyoming, and have become “snow-birds” flocking to their home in Las Cruces, New Mexico, avoiding the feet of snow, and opting for what are typically warmer winter months. We were very surprised that we came all the way to New Mexico to see the first snow of the year. The weather was unusually frigid, even snowing a few inches during our visit.

We spent most of the time being led around like tourists, taking in all the Southwestern sites and tastes. The first restaurant we dined at ended up being my most absolute favorite of the trip, La Posta de La Mesilla in Old Mesilla.  The picturesque adobe building that the restaurant is located in dates back to an estimated 1840s, originally housing a freight and passenger line; the restaurant later occupying the space in 1939. It was easy to determine why this place is ranked as one of the top 10 Mexican restaurants in the United States.

To eat, I had the combination plate #1, which consisted of a tamale, their famous red enchiladas, a rolled taco (a taquito), all served aside rice and beans. There also was a red chile con carne, which was as tender as a pot roast, but with all the loved Mexican spices and flavors. It was one of the most delightful meals I have had in a long time. To drink, I had the “La Patrona” margarita. Not sure if the name was for the Patrón tequila in the margarita, or if it was because this margarita is a BOSS! By far, the best margarita I have ever had. I could have sat there and drank myself silly. No nasty margarita sour mix put in this drink. Pure lime, tequila, and the faintest hint of simple syrup. I want one just thinking about it right now.

For New Year’s day, we stayed around “la casa” and enjoyed Southern holiday traditions, such as no washing clothes or sweeping of any kind. We dined on the traditional New Year’s day foods, ho-cakes, black-eyed peas for luck, collard greens for money, and we threw in pork chops for good measure.  My mother-in-law and I enjoyed a nice walk around their surrounding neighborhood. The views of the surrounding Organ Mountain are breath-taking. I was surprised to discover that New Mexico is a large producer of pecans. The orchards surrounding their neighborhood were large and bare this time of year.

On the last day of our adventure out west, we drove down to Puerto Palomas, Mexico. This was just a short hour drive south of Las Cruces. We chose to go into Mexico via this route versus through Juarez via El Paso, due to proximity, smaller border patrol lines, and safety. Unbelievably, it was snowing as we made the drive from Las Cruces into Mexico. It was a strange feeling having come all the way from Alabama to see snow in the desert.

Puerto Palomas boasts as the location where Pancho Villa launched his attack on New Mexico in 1916; a small border town, adjacent to Columbus, New Mexico. As we approached the border walls, we parked in a make-shift parking lot adjacent to a Dollar General on the American side of the border wall. Nothing says “Welcome to America” like a Dollar General Store. We put on our coats and scarves, and made the quick five-minute walk across the border, passing armed Mexican troops along the way.

The border perimeter is lined with pharmacies, liquor shops, and other novelty shops. One of the favorites frequented by my in-laws, and just a block from the border is the “Pink Store.” My mother-in-law thought we would enjoy shopping here because they serve you margaritas as you shop, which just made us shop more. This was a perfect stop to collect some Mexican folk art and other souvenirs. My husband was able to purchase some Cuban rum we cannot find in the United States, and my in-laws were able to refill their prescriptions for far less than they could in the United States. The store has a restaurant adjacent, and once we all had finished our shopping we enjoyed an authentic Mexican lunch, before crossing back into the United States.

It is always a sad day when we have to part. We had a delightful breakfast before leaving Las Cruces at Mesilla Valley Kitchen. The portions were large, and everything was cooked to order. It was the perfect base for what would be a long travel day home. As we approached El Paso, I asked if we could stop at the Lincoln Park underpass murals. It was just off the freeway and an easy stop coming into El Paso to the airport. Dozens of murals cover the underpass here. We spent a little time leisurely walking around taking photos. I love seeking out murals and other local art when visiting new cities. El Paso has over 100 murals. You could probably spend a week here and not see them all. I think that says volumes about the culture, and appreciation of arts in this community. Also, the art is a magnification of the people from the area producing it. My love for murals is very close to my love for seeking out local food. I love to find and immerse myself in the local environment in which I’m traveling. It makes the experience that much more enriching. I encourage you to do the same when you are traveling. Try something new, experience life.

 

La Patrona margarita from La Posta de Mesilla. The best margarita I’ve ever had!

Combination Plate #1 at La Posta de Mesilla. Tamale, enchiladas, carne rojo, ensalada Méxicana, frijoles, and arroz.
Albertson’s Grocery Store in Las Cruces. Not something you see in Alabama grocery stores, fresh tortillas being made, by the thousands.
The Organ Mountains in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
La Posta de Mesilla. My favorite place to eat near Las Cruces.
The Lodge Resort in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, covered in snow.
Beautiful snowy view. In a distance you can see the desert below the mountains.
Our Lady of Guadalupe in Las Tortugas neighborhood near Las Cruces, NM.

Unknown home. Just loved the colors and architecture. Adobe-style, flat- top homes were abundant in this area.

Armed Mexican officer that you pass when entering Mexico.

My mother-in-love after a few margaritas at the Pink Store in Puerto Palomas, Mexico.

How we felt about White Sands National Park being closed due to the government shutdown.
Murals beneath the “spaghetti bowl” underpass in El Paso, Texas.

Bow & Arrow

We had the exciting experience last night of getting to be some of the first few diners at Auburn’s newest culinary addition, Bow & Arrow.

Upon pulling into the parking lot you could smell the aromatic wonders of the smokers cooking a variety of meats. The design of the restaurant is warm and inviting. The ambiance is that of a hunting lodge, with a woman’s softness added. There are big buck trophy’s adorning the walls, all from local hunters.

When you walk in the front of the restaurant you are greeted by the visual sights of a tortilla machine cranking out freshly made tortillas, and then a feast of meats as far as the eyes can see. The restaurant is counter service in style, and family-style sharing of food is encouraged.

At the beginning of the order line, you will begin by selecting your meats.  There is a butcher that will cut them to order for you. To choose from there were brisket, turkey, pork shoulder,  chicken, ribs, jalapeno cheddar link sausage, and the Bow and Arrow original link, which was my personal favorite. You can order as many things as you want. We were in a group of six people and we chose to order several things and share our trays family style as suggested. We tried an array of the meats, and for the sides, we had the potato salad, mac & cheese, tater tot casserole, creamed corn, camp beans, butter beans, and potlicker greens. I think the only thing we missed was the corn cabbage slaw. Everything was very delicious and flavorful. There was an entire bar of sauces, relishes, and other dressings for the meats that I missed out on. I know several of our friends were raving on the white sauce. There was not anything that we did not enjoy. Standout favorites being the tater tot casserole, and the creamed corn.

We had fun sharing dinner with our group of friends, and the evening temps were mild enough that they were able to open the garage-style doors that line one side of the dining room that led out to a picturesque lit picnic table style seating area.

Listening to David Bancroft share his enthusiasm about the cultivation of this restaurant, and all the care and attention to detail that was paid to every single element, you cannot help share in his excitement. It was a wonderful evening shared with “friends and family” and we cannot be happier for our friends, David & Christin Bancroft and Caleb Fischer on this new venture. I truly felt the presence of Lord throughout the evening, I know they will all be blessed  and will be able to bless many others through your delicious food!

Beautiful iron work done by John Howell.
Hand-crafted bow and arrows. 
The buffet line. All the servers were so friendly and excited to serve.
Big Buck Hunter games will bring out your serious side. 😉
I think he covered all bases with this plate. 
 (L-R) Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse, John Mark Davis of International Wines, and David Bancroft of Acre & Bow and Arrow.
Adorable outdoor seating area that can be opened up to the dining area.

Lucy’s

For our last date during the month of June, we returned to the place where we met. June for us is a month of celebrations. We met on June 8, 2013, and had our first date together at what was Maestro 2300. Three years to the day we married in a wine vineyard in Oregon. My birthday is the following week and it’s the beginning of summer fun. Needless to say, I love June.

In the building where Maestro 2300 used to be located in the Moore’s Mill area of Auburn, Alabama, you will find the newly-opened, completely-renovated, vibrantly-cheerful,  Lucy’s.  Lucy’s is a great addition to the restaurant scene here in our growing community. Classified as a neighborhood eatery, with killer cocktails, shared plates, wine on tap, and good vibes only. During our visit, they lived up to all these things.

Upon entering the restaurant, I believe you will be blown away at the transformation Lisa VanderReijden, one of the owners and interior designer has done with this space. Her design style is impeccably classy and timeless. This space resembles nothing of is predecessor. It’s vibrant white, with black and yellow tastefully accenting the room. It’s no longer a choppy, obstructed dining room, but a beautiful open space that is welcoming and inviting. The beautiful bar, and the locally made metal accents throughout by John Howell add an industrial feel to the space.

We were seated in one of the booths just left of the bar area. It was a perfect spot to view everything going on in the bustling restaurant. As we usually do, we started with cocktails. My husband ordered the Affirmation, which consisted of Redemption Whiskey, Cappelletti, Vermouth, bitters, and Jack Rudy Bourbon Cherry. If you’ve never tried Jack Rudy products, I highly suggest you do. One of my favorites is their classic tonic syrup. It makes the best vodka tonics! I ordered the Habanero Paloma.  This delicious sip consists of Casamigos tequila, grapefruit, habanero simple syrup, sparkling rosé, and a Himalayan salt rim. This was a great kick off to  our dinner.

For starters, we ordered the tuna poke and the truffle fries. The tuna poke was a beautiful and colorful dish, almost too pretty to eat! You have probably seen poke restaurants starting to pop up. Poke originates from Hawaii and refers to the type of preparation of the dish. Poke is a chopped salad consisting of raw tuna (in this case), cucumbers, avocado with a house yuzu dressing. Lucy’s serves theirs with a side of plantain chips for dipping. The tuna was fresh and delicious, and I really enjoyed the plantain chips. The truffle fries were as expected, savory and delicious.

For our entrees, I ordered the Argentinian style New York Strip steak. My steak was cooked perfectly to my desired temp, medium well. I know many would criticize my temp preference on steak, but I like what I like, and that’s what I order. The chimichurri sauce served over-top of the steak was yummy. I almost thought about asking for more. Chimichurri sauce is a raw mix of finely chopped parsley, garlic, oregano with garlic, red wine vinegar, and red pepper flakes, originating from Argentina and Uruguay. The sides were lovely roasted potatoes that had been smashed into a flat disk, blistered tomatoes, and perfectly cooked asparagus. Everything was perfectly season and very tasty.

My husband ordered the garlic and rosemary lamb shank. The presentation was pretty awe-inspiring. The shank was served over McEwen and Son’s polenta, with stewed vegetables and braising jus. The shank peeled off the bone with ease, and all the combined flavors worked really well together. We enjoyed a bottle of a 2015 Jean Louis Chave Offerus Saint Joseph. This wine is comprised of one-hundred percent Syrah, which paired nicely with both of our meals.

Last, but certainly not least, we ended this magnificent feast with attempting to share the dessert board. This astounding board of chocolateness was comprised of ice-cold Blue Ribbon milk out of Tallassee, Alabama, served alongside fried cookie dough balls, and a hot fudge sundae with the cutest tiny milk can full of fudge to pour over ice cream and meringue crisps, and finally a small iron skillet full with monkey bread, served with bourbon butter pecan ice cream.  It was all sinful to the say the least, but was thoroughly enjoyed.

I cannot wait to dine at Lucy’s again! I really want to go back and try their brunch menu they serve on Saturday and Sunday’s. I see many more drinks and dinners here in our future!

Dinner menu.
Cocktail menu.
His and Hers Cocktails. The Affirmation for him, and the Habanero Paloma for her.
Tuna poke and plantain chips.
Truffle Fries.

Argentinian Style New York Strip steak with chimichurri sauce, served with asparagus, blistered tomatoes, and roasted smashed potatoes.
Lamb Shank served over polenta with stewed vegetables.
Dessert Board  (L-R) Ice cold milk from local creamery, fried cookie dough balls, hot fudge sundae with meringue crumbles, and monkey bread with Bourbon butter pecan ice cream.